Molaim Bille Iascaigh an Fheabhail agus Chairlinn don Teach. I commend the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill to the House. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to present the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006 for consideration by the House.
Our debate this evening takes on a new significance in light of yesterday's unprecedented developments in Northern Ireland. The agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin to share power from 8 May next has allowed us to move closer to sustainable and genuine partnership government in Northern Ireland than we have ever been before. The Government is firmly committed to doing everything possible to encourage the parties along the path to government. We all stand ready to assist the incoming Ministers in the Executive in whatever way we can. I look forward very much to the opportunity to work with my new counterpart in the coming months. Through partnership and co-operation, we can move forward together on the practical issues that affect the people on this island, North and South.
The Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of six North-South bodies to take forward co-operation in specific areas, including aquaculture and fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, which I will refer to as the commission, is one of the North-South bodies envisaged in the Agreement and was established under the British-Irish Agreement Act of March 1999. The commission carries out its functions in respect of the Foyle and Carlingford Areas through the Loughs Agency. The commission replaced the Foyle Fisheries Commission, which was established in 1952 to manage the fisheries resources of the Foyle area. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the functions of the former Foyle Fisheries Commission in regard to the Foyle area were transferred to the Loughs Agency of the commission. These functions were also extended to the Carlingford area.
The Agreement also provided that the Loughs Agency would be given responsibility for aquaculture and fisheries related matters and should have powers for the promotion of development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough for commercial and recreational purposes.
The purpose of this Bill, which was initiated in the Dáil in December last year, is to give effect to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in so far as the Loughs Agency is concerned. Equivalent legislation is required in Northern Ireland. In the absence of an Assembly in Northern Ireland, the legislation for that jurisdiction was introduced by means of an order in council through the parliamentary process in Westminster.
For the convenience of the House a detailed explanatory memorandum has been published and this provides a synopsis of the Bill's provisions. The Bill, when enacted, will provide for a robust regime for the regulation of aquaculture in Lough Foyle for the first time, the introduction of an appeals system in respect of decisions on aquaculture matters, and generally for the modernisation of the fisheries provisions of the Foyle Fisheries Acts.
I stress that the Bill is the result of a long and detailed negotiation process across a range of Departments and agencies North and South. Given that the Northern Ireland Order in Council has progressed through the parliamentary process in the United Kingdom the scope for making changes to the Bill before the House is restricted to changes necessitated by local law requirements.
I will bring forward three minor technical amendments on Committee Stage to correct drafting errors in the text and to clarify the provisions in relation to the transitional arrangements for licences relating to the Carlingford area. Given the necessity for identical legislation North and South, however, I will be severely restricted in terms of accepting amendments which impact on the operational nature of the Bill.
I will now deal with the contents of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the commencement on specified days of different provisions of the Act. It also provides that the commencement of any provision of the Act may be limited to a particular geographical area. Part 2 inserts a new Part VI A, sections 53A to 53W, into the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. This Part provides for the introduction of an aquaculture licensing system in Lough Foyle to be overseen by the Loughs Agency. It also transfers the existing aquaculture licensing powers of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources within the Carlingford area to the agency.
One of the key provisions, section 53A, confers powers on the Loughs Agency to grant aquaculture licences, notwithstanding any public right to fish. It also creates two offences. The first is the carrying out of aquaculture operations without a licence and the second is failure to comply with the terms and conditions of an aquaculture licence. The section also provides that aquaculture licences granted in respect of part of the foreshore, the bed of the sea or of an estuary, which is owned or lawfully occupied by another person, or which is within the limits of a several or private fishery, can be granted only with the consent of the owner, or lawful occupier, of the area or fishery in question.
Section 53B empowers the Loughs Agency to prescribe matters of procedure for the licence application process and the type of information to be provided by applicants, including information relating to the potential impact of aquaculture on the environment. Section 53C covers the determination of licence applications. It provides for the consideration of written representations, including those relating to the impact of aquaculture on the environment, in respect of such applications, notification of the decision to the applicant and publication of the notice of decision.
In section 53D, it is provided that an aquaculture licence shall define the position and limits of the licensed area and shall be subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Loughs Agency. The section lists examples of the types of conditions that may be imposed. Under section 53E licences may be granted for a period of between ten and 20 years and may be renewed for a further period not exceeding 20 years. An aquaculture licence confers, on its holders, exclusive rights to conduct aquaculture but protects existing legal rights enjoyed, for example, by any person under a local or personal Act or under charter. Section 53F also provides that ownership of the stock cultivated under a licence vests in the licensee. It makes it an offence for another person to interfere with a licensee's operations. Section 53G allows the agency to vary an aquaculture licence in the public interest and to pay compensation to the licensee for loss or damage arising from such a variation. The Loughs Agency is enabled, under the new section 53I, to revoke a licence for reasons of non-operation or breach of conditions.
Sections 53H, J, K and L make provisions for the variation of licences, the surrender of licences, the death of a licence holder, bankruptcy of the licensee, the transfer of aquaculture licences and the procedures to apply in each of these cases. Section 53M provides for the establishment and maintenance of a register of licences and related provisions, including, where practical, making the register available to the public for inspection by electronic means. Section 53N enables the Loughs Agency to make regulations providing for the payment of fees in respect of applications for aquaculture licences. It also provides for the variation, transfer, surrender and subsistence of aquaculture licences. Regulations made under this part of the Bill must be approved by the North-South Ministerial Council.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of the Foyle and Carlingford Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board, and the appointment of members and a chairperson to the board by the North-South Ministerial Council. Any aggrieved persons may appeal to this board against licensing decisions, including decisions on revocations, transfer, variations and compensation. Both the agency and the appeals board are obliged to give reasons for their decisions under section 53Q. The Bill contains a number of provisions on aquaculture in Carlingford and provides that existing licence applications shall continue to have effect as if made under section 53A.
Part 3 of the Bill contains the proposed amendments to the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. "Fish", for the purpose of this Part, is defined in section 5 of the Bill. By virtue of the definition of "fish" in section 5, the agency will have responsibility for the regulation of the wild mussel and oyster fisheries, eels, all freshwater fish, salmon and other fish of a kind that migrates to and from the sea, in addition to sea bass and tope. The amendment was made to address concerns expressed about the definition of "fish" and particularly concerns that the agency should regulate the wild oyster and mussel fisheries.
Section 6 amends the functions of the agency, as laid out in section 11 of the 1952 Act. This is to take account of the additional functions conferred on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission by the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Section 7 amends the 1952 Act and confers additional regulation-making powers on the Loughs Agency. These relate to the prohibition of the sale of fish caught by rod and line, concessionary fees, exemption from payment of fees, the nature of documentation to accompany applications, conditions attaching to fishing licences, the transfer of fishing licences and the tagging of fish. It also makes provision in regard to the publication of such regulations.
Section 8 amends section 14 of the 1952 Act and enables the agency to restrict the number of licences for commercial netting within a particular prescribed area of the Foyle or Carlingford areas. This section also provides for how the allocation of licences by the agency is undertaken in instances where the number of applications exceeds the maximum number of licences prescribed. These new provisions, when enacted, will play an important role in the introduction of any new management regime for wild salmon in Lough Foyle that may be required to comply with the habitats directive.
A new section, section 14A, in the 1952 Act is inserted by section 9 of this Bill. It allows the Loughs Agency to acquire, by agreement, fishing rights in any waters for the purpose of developing and improving facilities for angling. It also provides for the development of these waters by the agency.
Section 11 amends section 28 of the 1952 Act so the agency may prescribe different times for the closure of the seasons for different species of fish. Section 12 inserts a new section, section 35A, in the 1952 Act to prohibit unlicensed fishing.
Section 15 inserts a new section in the 1952 Act, which section makes it an offence to cause or knowingly permit any deleterious matter to pollute a river. Provision is also made for the Loughs Agency to carry out necessary works for the reinstatement of the waters to restore the fish population after such an incident. This section also provides for the recovery of costs from the person convicted of discharging the pollution. Section 16 extends the prohibition on the use of certain devices to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish, including electrical or acoustical apparatus. It also prohibits the use of a gaff.
Section 21 updates the procedures for the appointment of river watchers. The two new sections added to section 56 of the 1952 Act oblige the agency to maintain a register of the names and addresses of those entitled to act as river watchers. It also imposes a five-year limit on the period for which a river watcher may be appointed and allows for the re-appointment of river watchers.
Section 22 amends section 59(1) to enable an authorised person to seize any equipment that has been or is being used to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish. This section also amends section 65 of the 1952 Act and allows the courts to order the forfeiture of equipment seized.
Section 23 also amends section 59 of the 1952 Act and allows authorised persons to cross any land on foot, and where there is a suitable roadway, lane or path, to use motor vehicles to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of offenders. The provision also requires authorised persons not to cause obstruction and to re-secure any land against trespass when exercising such powers.
Section 27 provides for the revision of penalties in respect of offences committed under the Act. The penalties are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. This section also provides for the recoupment by the Loughs Agency of the cost of prosecutions by the insertion of section 69A in the 1952 Act.
Section 28 amends section 70 of the 1952 Act to provide that work that might otherwise be prohibited under the 1952 Act may be carried out by the agency or any person to whom a permit is issued, provided that such work is for artificial propagation, scientific purposes or for the improvement of the fisheries. The amendment also details procedures on permits issued for this purpose.
Section 29 amends section 76 of the 1952 Act by amending the existing statutory forfeiture provisions to allow the courts to adjudicate on forfeiture. This section also repeals section 77 of the 1952 Act. Section 30 inserts a new section 73A in the 1952 Act. It provides that applications for judicial review of decisions of the Loughs Agency about aquaculture, or of the appeals board in appeals, may be made only in accordance with Order 84 of the Rules of the Superior Courts. Provision is also made in order that the High Court may not decline jurisdiction in a case by reason only that the decision was made in an area that is outside the State, or relates to a place that is outside the State. This is one of the provisions that is included in this Bill but not in the draft Northern Ireland Order in Council, the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007. This section is included on the advice of the Attorney General.
Section 32 confers powers on the agency to provide, subject to the payment of such fees as it may determine, services relating to fisheries and amends paragraph 2 of the Third Schedule to the 1952 Act. Section 34 provides that the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 shall not apply to the Louth area. To date, aquaculture operations in this area have been licensed under the 1997 Act. Section 35 amends the Foreshore Act 1933 so the Minister may grant a foreshore licence to the Loughs Agency. This will allow aquaculture licensees to conduct aquaculture operations on the foreshore.
Schedule 1 inserts new Schedules 3A and 3B in the 1952 Act. These make provision for the incorporation, membership and staffing of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board and set out the procedures for appeals. There are eight articles in Schedule 3A which I will briefly outline. Schedule 2 contains the details of the new penalties as provided in section 27. The penalties in the North and the South have been made as consistent as possible allowing for local law conditions so that offenders should be subject to similar penalties in either jurisdiction.
The Bill is an important measure in the delivery of service by a North-South body established under the Good Friday Agreement. It will equip the agency with the powers to regulate aquaculture and it modernises its powers over inland fisheries. In turn, this will enhance the commission's scope for conserving and managing these fisheries. I look forward to the assistance of Members of the House in progressing the Bill into law.